Before I start considering recommendations, first I want to take a look at the chief objection that has been made by landlords to this series – the necessity to do anything at all.
“There is no problem”
However although many, probably a majority of landlords are decent and honourable and provide quality properties, there are many who do not.
At present these landlords are ‘getting away with it’. Do we want to live in a society where bad and often criminal landlords are allowed to rent out substandard and often dangerous property with impunity?
“We already have laws for these sorts of things’”
Why, people demand, do we need anything else?
The answer is that it is often difficult if not impossible to enforce them.
The Police generally refuse to have anything to do with housing issues, despite the fact that unlawful eviction (for example) is a criminal offence.
The people generally charged with the task of enforcing the regulations are local authorities. However it is very difficult for them to do this properly:
- A criminal prosecution needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt
- This is difficult to do if the main witnesses (the tenants) are too scared to give evidence in court
- Even if they are prepared to do this, you need a lot of very clear evidence to prove your case, and
- As trials generally do not take place for many months, many witnesses will have moved on and / or will find it difficult to remember the events clearly
- Local authority officers are over worked and there are not many of them. It is, practically, very difficult for them to find the time to bring prosecutions, particularly as many of them have not had proper legal training, and
- When a case DOES succeed at trial, the penalties handed down by Judges are fairly derisory
So at present, the system is not working. Also, I have to say that I am not sure this is the correct system to deal with the problem of bad landlords.
Why local authority prosecutions are not the answer
For the problem to be resolved by local authority prosecutions the following would have to happen:
- There would have to be a massive increase in local authority housing staff
- They would all have to be properly trained in housing law and the law of evidence
- Ideally cases would need to come to trial sooner
- There would have to be some sort of protection scheme for witnesses
- The penalties for housing relating offences would need to be changed to make them more of a deterrent.
Doing this would be hugely expensive and would increase the council tax bills for everyone.
I don’t think this is an option, do you?
This is why local authorities are coming round to the view that it is better for the landlord to be compelled to undergo training and comply with the proper standards before being allowed to rent out a property at all.
That way it is more objective, and landlords are unable to ‘get away with it’ by terrorising tenants so they refuse to give evidence.
“Regulation will only increase rents for tenants”
This may be true but I don’t think it is the whole truth.
Yes, it will be an extra expense, but if, say, the registration fee is £500 this equates to about £40 per month. That is not a huge amount and I think most landlords could afford it. It will be a business expense and they will be able to offset it against their tax. However the fee may be a lot less than that.
The real objections?
I suspect that the real (and understandable) reason why landlords don’t want regulation, is because they see it as taking away the freedom they have had up to now to do as they like.
They are worried that they are going to be ordered to do a lot of ‘unnecessary’ and expensive work to their properties by ‘landlord bashing’ local authority officials.
The answer to this is for the landlord associations to work with local authorities and the government in setting the standards, and to assist landlords challenge unfair decisions to the Residential Property Tribunal (which will almost certainly be the body for appeals, rather than the courts).
There is no perfect answer to the problem of bad landlords and whatever solution is decided on someone will object to it.
But personally I think a system of landlord registration is more likely to deal with the problem of bad landlords than the current system of leaving it to local authorities to bring prosecutions.
And I think, in view of the increase and projected increases in the private rented sector, the problem of bad landlords is something which needs to be tackled.
“Tenants don’t want longer fixed terms”
This is true of many tenants, but by no means all.
However under the current system, landlords get no advantage and may (if they are unlucky enough to get a bad tenant) be under a considerable disadvantage, if they grant a long fixed term.
It is also very much in the interests of letting agents to retain the current system, as their income is largely derived from finding new tenants and charging for ‘renewals’.
But is it good for society as a whole?
I’ll sum up my recommendations next week.